Two-wheelin' in the Fast Lane

Michael Brown

I’ve always cursed under my breath while walking behind people dragging rolling laptop bags at tradeshows. But arthritis in my shoulder forced me succumb to rolly temptation, and I found myself pulling Solo’s new Shock Stop laptop bag around Las Vegas during the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show.

I take my laptop with me almost everywhere I go, so I’m always on the lookout for a great bag. I had originally requested Solo’s new product (model SSA901, specifically) for our annual Geek Gift Guide because of its gimmicky shock absorbers. Yep, this bag has honest-to-goodness spring-loaded shocks on its wheels. Unfortunately, Solo couldn’t deliver the product in time for our photo-shoot. But I figured taking one to CES would be the ultimate field test, and this bag passed with flying colors--and not only because my shoulders were pain free when I returned to San Francisco.

Frankly, I don’t know how much good the shocks did; but they couldn’t have done any harm. The detail that impressed me the most was the way the bag’s pockets are organized. Two front-mounted pockets can be accessed without having to open the rest of the bag at all. I use the shallow one at the top to store my MP3 player, earbuds, and a couple of USB thumb drives—items that always seemed to get lost in other bags I’ve used. This is particularly useful because I always double-check to make sure I’ve packed my thumb drive before dashing out of the house, and it’s always been a pain to dig through the interiors of other bags I’ve carried. A larger pocket in front of and below that proved handy for tucking my boarding pass and baggage claim check, as well as the spare telephone and Ethernet cable I carry with me. (I was never a Boy Scout, but I do my best to be prepared.)

You can open a third compartment, still without opening the main section where your laptop is stored, to access even more storage. When opened fully, this section accordions out so you can slip a file folder or thin binder into your bag. There’s a nine-inch-wide zippered pocket in front of that, plus three smaller pockets that I use to stash a Wi-Fi adapter, personal GPS, cell-phone charger and spare batteries, extra business cards, and a few other odds and ends.

The bag will accommodate up to a 15.4-inch notebook PC, so those of you traveling with media-center monsters like HP’s Pavilion HDX will need to look elsewhere; in my case, there was plenty of room for the homegrown model that Gordon built a while back. The computer fits in an elastic pocket that’s just about in the middle of the bag, which means there’s plenty of padding to protect it. Two large interior pockets on the opposite side provide perfect storage for a power supply, portable mouse, or whatever extra gear you carry with you. When the bag is closed, these push into the otherwise vacant space created by the bag’s steel frame and telescopic handle.

If you like to travel light, there’s enough room inside for at least one change of clothes alongside your PC. I used this space to stash spiral-bound steno book, a couple issues of the magazine, and a handful of press kits. Although the vast majority of exhibitors distribute press materials on CDs or USB drives, I still run into the occasional numbskull who insists on using dead trees. I’ve declined to take such materials in years past, but I needed them this year because I was updating my blog with daily dispatches from the show.

The bag is constructed of a rigid internal frame and covered by densely woven polyester fiber. I had no problem stowing the bag in the overhead bin on the airline, but with dimensions 17.5 wide, 16.75 inches high, and 9.0 inches thick, the fit under the seat in front of me was a bit tight. The CES show floor was extremely crowded this year, which meant there were times when I just could not allow myself to pull the cart behind me—I knew someone would trip on it. And as much as I appreciated the inch-and-a-quarter of gel padding in the handle, I found myself wishing that Solo had included a provision for a shoulder strap. This bag is heavy even when it’s empty. That doesn’t matter much when you’re rolling it on the ground, but the weight can take a toll when you do have to carry it.

Aside from that criticism, the Shock Stop is the best bag I’ve ever toted. It’s rugged, offers plenty of easily accessible storage, and it’s virtually impossible to tip over, even with all its compartments flopped open. Be sure you don’t pay the full $120 list price; I’ve seen it available online for a much more reasonable $70.

So I’ve joined the ranks of the idiots who drag their notebook bags behind them at trade shows. I’ll do my best not to trip you.

Around the web